One of the strangest omissions at CinemaCon last month took place during Lionsgate’s presentation. The studio hyped up all of their 2017 pictures except for two seemingly major releases: “Soldado” and “Granite Mountain.”
“Soldado” is the sequel to 2015’s critically acclaimed “Sicario” and reunites stars Benicio Del Toro and Josh Brolin. It features a script by original screenwriter Taylor Sheridan (an Oscar nominee this year for “Hell or High Water”) and was directed by Italian filmmaker Stefano Sollima who is best known for the “Gomorrah” TV series.
“Granite Mountain” is based on the true story of a group of firefighters who fought a 2013 blaze in Prescott, Arizona that killed 19 of their colleagues. It’s Joseph Kosinski‘s follow-up to 2013’s “Oblivion” and features an intriguing cast including Miles Teller, Taylor Kitsch, Jennifer Connelly, James Badge Dale, Jeff Bridges and, again, Brolin. Lionsgate dated “Granite” for a Sept. 22 release and if you want a textbook example of what a TIFF gala premiere film looks like, in theory, it’s this one.
Lionsgate hasn’t always been a player during awards season, but coming off the success of “La La Land” these were the two titles, along with Stephen Chbosky’s “Wonder,” that seemed like the studio’s key prestige players for the year. Yet, again, neither film was mentioned during the presentation. Now we know why.
According to Deadline, Lionsgate and Black Label Media, the production company who financed both pictures, are parting ways over reported disagreements on marketing and distributions strategy. The outlet was quick to point out that “Granite Mountain” had recently scored high test screening results which, if true, makes this all a bit strange from Lionsgate’s perspective. What is the identity exactly of the studio? What is a Lionsgate picture?
Looking at the rest of 2017, Lionsgate has two films it’s simply distributing, “The Big Sick” for Amazon Studios and “American Assassin” for CBS Films, two films specifically aimed at the Latino marketplace (“How to be a Latin Lover” and “3 Idiotas”), the questionable Tupac biopic “All Eyez on Me,” the summer action comedy “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” (likely their only chance at a major breakout hit this year), the animated “My Little Pony” (hard to launch an animated blockbuster without a trailer six months out), “Saw: Legacy” (because horror franchises never die) and the aforementioned “Wonder” (read my thoughts on that one here). Their previous 2017 releases included “Power Rangers,” “John Wick: Chapter Two” and “The Shack.” At worst, “Soldado” and “Granite Mountain” were two releases that told filmmakers and producers across town that the studio was still interested in releasing films that were by directors with distinct voices such as Damien Chazelle’s “La La Land” (also a Black Label Media venture) or Denis Villeneuve’s “Sicario.” Could the disagreement between the two companies over the pictures be legit? Could Lionsgate believe they are more difficult marketing sells than Black Label does? Absolutely, but the optics don’t look good for a studio that is still searching for an identity after the end of buzzworthy franchises such as “The Hunger Games” or even “Twilight.” What sort of movies does Lionsgate want to make? You got me.
As for Black Label, they are going to have to make some tough decisions. If they still want to release both pictures this calendar year their choices are slightly slim. Focus Features, Fox Searchlight, 20th Century Fox and Paramount Pictures appear booked throughout the end of the year and this simply isn’t the business Disney is in anymore. Universal Pictures and Sony Pictures could theoretically slide at least one of the two into their fall slates, but would they even want to? (Sony might). A24 would no doubt take a look at “Soldado,” but it’s not the sort of eventual wide release they get excited about internally. That leaves newbies Neon or Annapurna Pictures (a stretch), Roadside Attractions (unlikely since it’s partially owned by Lionsgate), Bleecker Street (may not have the bandwidth) and, of course, The Weinstein Company. Harvey’s currently got the highly anticipated “Mary Magdalene” at the end of November and “The Current War” at Christmas, but that leaves September and October barren. The studio is also releasing Sheridan’s directorial debut “Wind River” on August 4 so that’s…something. And, in theory, Netflix could come in and flex its acquisition muscle, but considering how many releases they already have planned for this calendar year that would seem unlikely.
Of course, if Black Label is willing to push the films to 2018 that opens the door to a number of other options. Wherever they end up it will be a litmus test for whether Lionsgate or Black Label made the right choice in ending the original agreements or not. To say we’re insanely curious is an epic understatement.